|| AFP ||
Kusal Mendis' fiery start and a key lower-order knock by Bhanuka Rajapaksa powered Sri Lanka to a four-wicket win over Afghanistan in their Asia Cup Super Four contest on Saturday.
Set 176 for victory, Sri Lanka leaned on an attacking 62-run opening stand between Pathum Nissanka (35) and Mendis (36) to achieve their target with five balls to spare at Sharjah.
Afghanistan's bowlers got regular wickets to dent Sri Lanka's middle-order but Rajapaksa's 31 off 14 balls and a quickfire 16 not out from Wanindu Hasaranga helped them achieve the highest chase at the desert venue.
"It's the belief of the dressing room, we believe we can chase anything in these kinds of wickets," Sri Lanka skipper Dasun Shanaka said.
"We can always analyse the wicket better when chasing. There was a plan coming into this game, we know they have good batters, but the boys executed the plans really well."
Earlier, Rahmanullah Gurbaz smashed 84 to guide Afghanistan to 175-6, a total that could have been bigger had Sri Lankan bowlers not hurt the Afghans with late strikes.
Gurbaz's effort came in vain after he put on a key second-wicket stand of 93 with Ibrahim Zadran, who made 40, after Afghanistan were made to bat first.
Afghanistan, who had crushed Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to move into the Super Four stage, managed just 37 runs in the last five overs and lost five wickets.
"We were about 20-25 runs short, and also we didn't field well or bowl in the right areas," said Afghanistan captain Mohammad Nabi.
"It's a better pitch today than the one we played on against Bangladesh, which is why I said we were a few runs short."
Sri Lanka's Dilshan Madushanka, a left-arm quick, took two wickets while fellow fast bowler Asitha Fernando and spinner Maheesh Theekshana claimed one each.
In reply, Sri Lankan openers Nissanka and Mendis started strongly in the powerplay.
Nissanka attacked the bowlers with a few boundaries and then Mendis took over, smashing leg-spinner Rashid Khan for two sixes to bring up his team's fifty.
Fast bowler Naveen-ul-Haq broke through to remove Mendis after his 19-ball blitz.
Nissanka attempted to keep up the charge but fell to spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman with Gurbaz, who was named man of the match, taking a sharp catch.
Danushka Gunathilaka made 33 to keep the chase on track despite the loss of Charith Asalanka and Shanaka at the other end.
He found company in the form of Rajapaksa, who smashed Naveen for two fours and one six in an 18-run 16th over to bring down the asking rate.
Rashid bowled Gunathilaka but new man Hasaranga hit three boundaries to take Sri Lanka near their target.
Rajapaksa was out in the 19th over before Chamika Karunaratne hit the winning boundary.